OUTER BANKS, N.C. (WTVD) -- Beaches are packed this Memorial Day weekend, and this week starts the prime rental season at the North Carolina coast.
It's a tradition for many families and friends to rent a beach house, but COVID-19 fears are causing some to cancel their plans despite having thousands of dollars invested.
Melissa Briner and her friends had a big reunion planned to the Outer Banks.
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"We are a group of seven families we've known each other 25 years now," she said. "We invited all the kids and grandkids."
The seven families from all over the country rented a 22 bedroom home for their group of 50 people. When they booked the home in November, they paid a $10,000 deposit. There was a lot of planning and excitement, that is until COVID-19 hit.
"As a group of seven states, 50 people ages 2 to 65 as a group, we did not feel comfortable that this is a time to be traveling," Briner said. "We had to make the best choice for our group, and we choose not to do it."
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They canceled and thought they would get their money back.
"They are keeping our deposit money and not refunding it because we had a contract the island opened, and it's really disappointing," Briner said.
The group paid extra for insurance on the rental, but they're not protected as the insurance policy does not cover anything COVID-19 related.
This is not a unique situation as Troubleshooter Diane Wilson is hearing from several renters in the same situation where refunds are not being offered. It's important to realize, while under North Carolina Phase 2 rules, while mass gatherings are limited to no more than ten people indoors that does not pertain to private houses.
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein says since restrictions are lifted at the North Carolina beaches, and if access is not denied to the rental, then renters might not be protected if they want to cancel.
"If it's a matter that they are just uncomfortable, a lot of it will depend on what their contract states and whether they bought insurance and what that policy says," he said.
Stein urges people to call the property management company or owners of the rental to see if they will work with you as these are unique times.
"Some policies talk about quarantine, and if a person has it and they've been ordered by public health not to travel which would essentially be a quarantine, then maybe they can get a refund," Stein said.
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Troubleshooter Diane Wilson checked with the North Carolina Real Estate Commission, and their legal counsel for the commission said the NC Vacation Rental Act does not include a requirement for refunds to tenants in situations where the house is fit and habitable and accessible, and the tenant wants to cancel. They advise that tenants should review their rental contract and review the terms of travel insurance policies. They also encourage property managers to assist tenants whenever possible by exchanging weeks or homes to accommodate issues as we move into Phase 2 of the Governor's plan.
When it comes to the Briner's and their friends, once they canceled their contract to rent the beach home, the property management company was able to re-rent the home to another part, but at a reduced rate, so the Briner's did not get any of their money back. The property management company said they tried to work with the Briner's and offered them a $5,000 credit on a future rental.
You can always file a complaint with the NC Attorney General's office. Still, again it will come down to what the contract states, that's why it's so important before you book a vacation this summer, make sure you look at the cancellation and refund policy.
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